Sunday saw the 2017 Scottish Hill Runners championship season get underway. Dumfries Running Club hosted the annual Criffel Race in New Abbey, 10.5km with 550m of climb. Sold by many at registration as a bog fest, this was somewhat of an understatement, one could argue the case for definite grounds of mis-selling in fact, but more of that later.

Following the clubs SHR success across rankings in 2016, our hill running hierarchy were not resting on their laurels having worked hard over the winter months to bolster the squad in strength, depth and youth. With a few seasoned males having crept into the old men’s categories, there was the need for some fresh blood to fill the void. As the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last race. More importantly, if you excluded the relays, this was the first time in ages that we were able to field a full ladies team. Without defending 2016 SHR champion, Joe Symonds making the starting line-up due to illness and last year’s race winner, Matt Sullivan also side-lined with a recent bout of flu, the club still managed, possibly, a record turnout of 17 runners for a championship race.  Matt was there to cheer us on or at least be entertained with some spectacular falls at probably the worst section of the course.

Despite Criffel being closer to the Lakeland fells and Mourne Mountains than most venues on the SHR calendar, the race still managed to draw a stellar field of 201, some travelling the length and breadth of the country. During the warm-up, there was some banter of wagering on who was going to win with Tom Owens, Finlay Wild, Murray Strain and Graham Gristwood all in attendance and contention.

The race started on the tarmac for the first half mile, so it was fairly fast and furious, albeit the luxury of firm asphalt was somewhat brief. The route then follows a reasonable trod, before it starts to climb up through a firebreak and on to the open hillside.   To put things into context, for those still crying over the mud at the National XC a few weeks ago, the underfoot conditions for this part of course would have been considered like a bowling lawn in comparison to what some likened to ‘the battle of the somme’ and a ‘war of attrition’.   A quagmire of knee deep mud, hidden potholes, lethal wet rocks followed by some ideal water skiing conditions when things started to level out were all thrown in for good measure. It can only be around a mile and a half of running, but probably felt more painful than doing the Alloa half. At least we were all blessed with some sunshine and views of the Solway Firth from the summit if you dared to lift your eyes from fear of falling, with the morning rain also abating as an added bonus. The descent was probably worse than the climb for most, staying on your feet going down through an even more churned up quagmire would have deserved commendation alone.   At least there were some good amenities at the finish by way of the mill pond for a wash. I’m sure the local trout were delighted.

Back to the race, whilst I couldn’t see who summited first, off the top of Criffel, Graham Gristwood of Ochil came leaping past, possibly due to the small section of marginally better underfoot conditions, in the lead with Finlay Wild of Lochaber and Murray Strain of HBT in close pursuit. Apparently these boys were waxing lyrical at the finish about how great the conditions were, clearly in the minority. Tom and Jethro came past shortly afterwards, both class acts in the art of descending, maybe less so today though, neither quiet able to catch the trio at the front. Ali McLeod wasn’t far adrift with a steady stream of blue and yellow vests following behind.

Finlay made some inroads on the way down but wasn’t able to catch Graham, who took the race in a time of 50:51. No course record but a new Strava descent CR of 19.07 for Finlay!

The winning trio above.  Murray was third home, with Tom, Ali and Jethro in 4th , 5th and 7th (1st MV40) respectively. New kid on the block, Ross Gollan was 8th with our very own ‘reality TV soldier’, Ryan Stewart next back in 15th. There were enough of us packing the front to take the senior men’s team prize. Lucas Cheskin was in-between some of the vets finishing in 24th, Ross Cruickshanks also ran well in 61st.

King vet and MV40 SHR title holder, Kenny Richmond ran well to finish 21st, (4th vet) but will have his work cut out this year to defend his crown from fellow club mate, Jethro. Marathon man, Steve Winter was hot on Kenny’s heels, taking 23th. The trio wrapped up the MV40 team.  Neither I, nor John Connaghan had the legs to make any inroads, finishing 25th and 29th respectively.   Walter Henderson also showed his ability to climb the Vet charts, finishing in 52nd.

The scalp of the day though goes to Bill Breckenridge who having effortlessly transitioned into the MV50 category this season, finished 33rd overall and on the way, passed one of the greatest fell runners of the last four decades and a three time British champion, Colin Donnelly and also kept Aidy Davies of Carnethy at bay to take first MV50.  Bill and Colin in action and fairly clean too by the looks!


Another fantastic display on the day was to have a full team of ladies out on the hill competing for the club.   The ladies race was won outright by Georgia Tindley of HBT in 1:05:58, close behind in 2nd was Steph Provan of Deeside and Charlotte Morgan of Carnethy, 3rd (first FV40). First back for the club was Christina Rankin in 71st, (7th female overall) followed by Victoria Leiper, 143rd, Myrtle Breckenridge 160th and Susan Breckenridge, 182nd.

The race was also included as the inaugural Scottish Athletics West District Hill Running Championships, with the club cleaning up in most categories with wins for Tom, Ali, Cristina, Jethro and Bill.  There were also team wins for the men, vets and ladies (seen basking in the sunshine below) to wrap up a successful day.  More on the Westerns can be found here:

Western Districts article

Full results can be found here: Criffel Results

Some photos also can be found here: Criffel photos

More great action shots, courtesy of Alan Gebbie  Alan Gebbie Flickr

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